Business

Hiawatha business FiddleSticks creates products with laser

Hiawatha business owner shifted from woodworking hobby

Ben Fiedler pulls the protective film from acrylic letters that he laser cut for a customer in his home woodworking shop
Ben Fiedler pulls the protective film from acrylic letters that he laser cut for a customer in his home woodworking shop in Hiawatha, Iowa, on Thursday, April 2, 2020. Fielder is the owner of FiddleSticks. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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HIAWATHA — What started as a woodworking hobby for a Hiawatha man has led to a business creating products with a laser.

Ben Fiedler, an engineer by trade, said a request from a friend in 2014 for an unusual Christmas present for her husband spawned his initial woodworking product.

“Her husband likes to drink whiskey and as I was looking around, I found a whiskey faucet,” said Fiedler, owner of FiddleSticks LLC. “I made a couple of wooden barrels with faucets that hold a whiskey bottle and put them on Etsy.

“I am up to the point where I have sold 500 of them. I was buying more and more equipment when I began to think that my hobby could make enough money to pay for itself.”

Fiedler branched out into other products such as cutting boards, but it quickly became apparent that the profit margins are very slim.

“A friend’s grandmother passed away and she wanted to make some sort of memorial,” Fiedler recalled. “The day before the grandmother passed away, she left a voice mail for her granddaughter and ended it with, ‘Christy, love you.’

“I took the audio waveform of that phrase. I designed a plaque with the waveform below the wording.”

Fiedler then took the plaque to a man in Walker who engraved it using a laser.

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Seeing the finished plaque made Fiedler aware of the potential of using a laser. He ultimately bought the laser from the man in Walker.

“Woodworking is now a hobby for me and laser engraving is the business,” he said “I sell products through the Artisan’s Emporium in NewBo City Market,” at the Shops at 208, 208 12th Ave. SE, and the Clever Feather, 121 E. Main St. in Anamosa.

Incorporating woodworking with the laser is what Fiedler believes sets him apart.

The laser, he noted, is “being able to incorporate the mixed media of woodworking with laser, metalworking and Plexiglas.”

Unlike printing, which is an additive process, laser engraving is a removal process. The laser, focusing a very narrow intense beam of light at the same distance from an object, burns away the material to create an image.

FiddleSticks offers a variety of products such as personalized coffee tumblers, journals and phone wallets with a name engraved on the leather cover, notebooks, posters, T-shirts and hoodies and stemless wine glasses.

The company also does custom laser work for other businesses.

“I have a client who sends me that name of a customer and I engrave it on the cover of a journal,” Fiedler said. “The company sends it to the customer as a ‘thank you’ for their business.

“You can give away ‘swag’ that has your company’s name on it, but research has shown that those really are not effective. When you put the customer’s name on it, that’s viewed as a personal touch.”

Fiedler spends his evenings and weekend filling orders and developing new products. By day, he works full time for Benchmark of Cedar Rapids, a nationwide consulting service that helps clients extend the life of their roof or pavement.

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“My entrepreneur story isn’t like most,” Fiedler said. “Many people start a business because they are not making enough money, they don’t like who they work for, they don’t enjoy their job or they think they can do it better.

“None of those apply to me. Benchmark is an awesome place to work and I have no plans to ever leave the company. FiddleSticks to me is fun. I only take on projects that I want to do.

“It’s a way for me to have my creative outlet. If you can think of something, I can usually do it with the laser.”

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